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Cultivating Creativity and Innovation: Experiences and Activities

As a school-age staff member, you will be responsible for providing children with a variety of experiences that cultivate creativity. This lesson will describe developmentally appropriate experiences for school-age children and discuss ways to ensure you are supporting all learners.

  • Identify examples of creative activities for school-age children.
  • Distinguish between process-oriented and product-oriented experiences.
  • Reflect on creative experiences you currently use in your classroom.



“Those who don’t think outside the box are easily contained.” -- Nicolas Manetta

Creativity can happen anywhere: quiet moments by yourself, surrounded by a group of enthusiastic people, on a walk, in a car, etc. The opportunities that you provide and the interactions between you and the children are critical for promoting creativity.

Just as experiences and activities inspire your creativity, experiences and activities nurture creativity in young children. In Lesson One, you learned that creativity can be nurtured and cultivated; it is not something that simply exists in some individuals and not in others. As a school-age staff member, you are responsible for creating meaningful experiences that incorporate and nurture creativity. Creative experiences provide opportunities for children to express and demonstrate their knowledge in interesting and meaningful ways (Gandini, 1992). Fostering children’s creativity builds a foundation for healthy development and love for learning.

Fostering Creative Experiences

How does your program foster creativity in school-age children? Does it encourage and provide opportunities for creative expression for all children? How are you supported in promoting school-age children’s creativity? The following can guide your efforts as you interact with children in school-age experiences.

Healthy Self-Expression

Think back to your days as a school-age child. Can you remember when you began to develop your own sense of identity? Do you remember when you started choosing your own clothing, redecorating your bedroom, wearing trendy jewelry, or listening to popular music? These are all examples of self-expression. You may have also started experimenting with a variety of artistic activities. You might have started drawing, kept a diary, made jewelry, learned an instrument, and created inventions. These are examples of taking risks and trying new things while finding one’s passions. Self-expression and discovering one’s passion are important parts of development for school-age children. As children grow and develop, they try to find their own identity or their own voice. They will take risks and try new things, and each will become his or her own person. The creative arts allow school-age children to express themselves in healthy ways and to discover what they are passionate about.

Self-expression is a significant part of growing up. School-age children need to develop healthy forms of self-expression to handle the emotions and stress that come with growing older. The creative arts help them do so. According to Harvard’s Project Zero, the arts “provide a unique opportunity for students to express themselves beyond verbal language.” At times, school-age children have difficulty discussing what is on their minds, and using the arts is a way to help them communicate their feelings in a variety of ways.

Self-Expression: Communicating Through the Arts

Using the creative arts as a form of communication allows children to express themselves in healthy ways. In this section, we will go through the six major creative arts and discuss examples of how school-age children might communicate. Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way for children to use the arts as a form of communication or self-expression. The creative process allows children to make their own decisions about their work, to take risks and to make mistakes. The methods listed below are only a small portion of the possible ways children can use the arts to communicate.

Self Expression: Communicating Through the Arts

  • Creating images or visual representations of events or feelings: School-age children may have a hard time discussing topics that make them uncomfortable. Drawing, painting, or creating other visual representations allows children to express themselves without always having to discuss their feelings with others. Sometimes, discussing the artwork they created will be easier than discussing what actually happened.
  • Keeping a personal diary or blog: School-age children can release their feelings and thoughts in a healthy way by journaling about their life. Feelings usually kept to themselves might become topics for conversation after having worked through them on paper. It is important to remind school-age children that information kept on a blog is not private.
  • Creative writing: School-age children can use their imaginations to communicate through creative writing. They could put themselves into a story or create a character that they wish they could be like. Poetry is also a way for children to express themselves. There is a large variety of types of poetry, which means poetry can appeal to many different children. Spoken word is such an example as it brings poetry to life through an oral performance in which elements of storytelling and music are woven in.
  • Playing a musical instrument: School-age children who play musical instruments may use this creative outlet to communicate their feelings. Sometimes it is the exploration of using their body to create various sounds, such as beat boxing, that a child enjoys. Different types of music evoke different emotions, and those emotions are necessary to perform the piece well.
  • Music composition: Creating music is another way school-age children can express emotions and feelings. Children may write song lyrics, or a talented musician may even create musical compositions.
  • Listening to music: A child’s choice of music may depend on their mood or current situation. The music itself can speak to children; it can get them up and moving or match their somber moods. Song lyrics are important as well and can be interpreted to help children through situations.
  • Interpretive dance: children move based on what the music is saying to them. Dance provides a school-age child the opportunity to express emotion and tell a story through movement.
  • Choreography: School-age children can work together or independently to design a new dance based on feelings, emotions, and moods.
  • Acting and storytelling: Acting and storytelling are ways children can put thought and emotion into practice. In these artistic methods, children can take an author’s words and use events in their lives to fuel the dramatic expression.
  • Pretend play: School-age children are not too old to engage in pretend play. They may act out scenes with figures or dolls or dress in costume and pretend to be a character. Sometimes, pretend play can be a healthy way to escape from the everyday stressors of life.
  • Inventing: Inventing is a creative outlet for the imagination to dream up the impossible. School-age children will enjoy inventing products or methods that may help them, their families, or the world around them. This is a way that children might express what is bothering them or try to fix something.
  • Scientific discovery and hypothesis: Making discoveries and guesses about the results of experiments is another form of creative expression. It allows children to think freely and communicate their thoughts and opinions.

Developing Personality and Discovering Self-Worth

School-age children begin to develop their own sense of individuality and a unique personality. During these years, children start to have a deeper understanding of humor, compassion, empathy, and character traits such as kindness and patience. According to Harvard’s Project Zero, “an important outcome of arts education is to help all children grow as individuals.”

Developing a unique personality also means finding one’s own sense of style. A school-age child’s sense of style could be the way he or she dresses, does his or her hair, or adds accessories like jewelry or gear. It might also mean the way they choose to decorate their bedroom, locker, or other personal space. A sense of style is not just about the way we dress or decorate. It is also about our sense of humor, body language, and character.

It is important to encourage this development by allowing children to be themselves. As children develop and discover who they are, they might make some out-of-the-ordinary wardrobe or behavior choices. Create an inclusive atmosphere that embraces acceptance and kindness. Have discussions about being accepting of all children. Whenever possible and appropriate, give children ownership over space or experiences in the learning environment to allow them to add their own personality to it.

The term self-worth can be used interchangeably with self-esteem. The creative arts help school-age children develop a healthy sense of self-worth because they tend to feel accomplished and unique when they are given opportunities to be creative. Experiencing the creative arts helps develop characteristics such as confidence, courage, and pride. These characteristics help children develop a healthy self-esteem and feel that they have something to offer.

In the Learn section of this lesson you will find specific ideas related to visual arts and literature, as well as music and dance experiences for school-age children.

Fostering Culturally Responsive Creative Experiences

Culturally responsive experiences are those that help children see themselves and their families represented in your program. This may mean opportunities for self-reflection and expression. It may also mean broad exposure to people, ideas, and experiences from around the world. When discussing creativity, the term “culture” can be quite broad. You should provide experiences that help children define a sense of self and a sense of the world around them, including racial or ethnic identity, and identities related to family values, beliefs, or experiences. For example, children may explore the culture of living on a military installation or being an only child.

Distinguishing between Process- and Product-Oriented Experiences

In process-oriented and product-oriented experiences, there are different focuses. The process is the journey a child takes when they are creating. The product is what they end up with as a result of that journey. Process-oriented experiences are open-ended, child-directed, and focused on the experience itself rather than the outcome. Examples may include a child creating a piece of art, writing their own scripts for a play or experimenting with building a structure out of a variety of materials. Product-oriented experiences have a clearly defined goal or outcome. An adult often decides upon the goal. For example, a class of school-age children might all make identical jack-o-lantern faces out of construction paper for Halloween. Through the journey of process-oriented experiences, school-age children will have the opportunity to be creative, take risks, and include their own interpretations, personalities, and feelings. These experiences cultivate creativity and innovation.

Your teaching philosophy informs which experience you will provide. There are arguments stating that product-oriented experiences are needed to encourage and demonstrate a specific technique. There are also arguments that process-oriented experiences can achieve the same goal. As a reflective teacher, consider how to support a child in learning or strengthen a skill while exercising their creative freedom. For instance, can a child learn the technique of using a “slip,” wet clay the consistency of mud, to hold clay forms together in an open-ended experience or do you need to have a lesson focused on teaching the technique?

According to Althouse, Johnson, and Mitchell, who write about integrating the visual arts into the classroom (2003), when adults continuously dictate to children the size paper to use, colors to use, and the product to make, creativity is discouraged. It is a delicate and sometimes difficult dance to know when to guide the child in their process. There is value in expanding a child’s concept of a media or technique with a material. You must find balance. The key is to introduce the technique while the child is engaged in the process. For example, you could assist the child in becoming proficient at using clay to represent a pig in their animation of a favorite book. During the process of creating the pig, the child may become frustrated that their creation keeps falling apart. This is an appropriate time to introduce the use of wet clay, the consistency of mud, to create a “slip.” By applying this slip as glue between the pieces of clay, the structure will hold together better. You used the child’s interest to guide your support in teaching a new technique. In this example, the dance is between following the child’s interest and supporting their success while introducing a new technique. Process-oriented experiences allow you to encourage creative expression while teaching a new skill and nurturing children’s creativity.

A few ways of promoting creativity through your activity plans are:

  • Allow for open-ended art experiences. Have items such as paint, paper, crayons, colored pencils and markers available at all times, allowing school-age children to create anything they can dream up.
  • Limit the number of product-based art experiences. For example, do not always provide a sample product when explaining an art project. An example encourages children to copy instead of using their imagination to create their own piece of art. Encourage the children to use their imaginations to create their own versions.
  • Create a balance of process-based experiences and skill-based experiences. There are some skills involved with the arts that you will want to help school-age children improve. These include using scissors, sketching, reading music, or writing. When sharing these experiences with children, you will be more focused on the result so that children develop the proper skills and techniques.

Encouraging Creativity

As a school-age staff member, you can encourage creativity by thinking about the questions and comments you make while a child is creating in addition to the materials and experiences you provide. The table below will provide you with some examples of how to encourage the creative process and what to avoid.

Inappropriate Questions and CommentsExplanationAppropriate Questions and CommentsExplanation
What is that?It can be very disappointing for a child if you cannot figure out what they have created. Ask open-ended questions and let them tell you what it is.What can you tell me about your piece of work?This allows the child to share what they have been working on in their own words. This also allows you to avoid guessing what they have created if you are unsure.
I love that dog you painted.Never assume you know what they’ve created. Try to avoid being too specific until the child has given you information.What gave you the idea to create this?This encourages children to think about what they’ve created and will allow them to tell you their idea behind the creation.
You must have been sad when you wrote that.Do not assume you know what a child was feeling when they created something. Let them tell you — it will give them a chance to discuss their feelings but not feel uncomfortable.

What is your favorite part about it?

How were you feeling when you created this?

These open-ended questions give children a chance to think about what they like about their piece of work. They might choose the topic or the color or something completely different. It also is the best way to give children the chance to discuss their feelings without pressure.
It looks like you need to work on your cutting skills.Try not to judge or critique a child’s skill level when they are working on a creative project. There is a time for skill-building activities; you can easily discourage their creativity if you constantly point out the negative.What title would you give it?This question gives you an idea of what makes this piece important to the child. It also gives them ownership over their work.
Good job!Often, this is an automatic response to a child.  This vague comment does not provide valuable information.  This tells the child their work is only good when you say those words.I noticed you were able to make a sound with those two items. Tell me how you did that.This statement helps the child connect their work with what you observe. This also provokes the child to tell you about the process they engaged in. Thus, it fosters further creative exploration.

Here are some ways to help promote creative expression in the learning environment:

  • Provide materials for open-ended art, music, dance, discovery, and literature experiences.
  • Allow for long-term projects by providing space for children to store their work that is not yet complete.
  • Allow for free time each day so that children can choose their own experiences and create their own activities.
  • Plan time to focus on specific skills.
  • Foster risk taking as the child pushes their creative thinking.
  • Allow children to take on different gender roles regardless of their identity.
  • Observe children carefully so that you are aware of each child’s developing skills.

Meeting the Needs of All Learners

Each child develops differently and approaches creative experiences differently. Some children might have difficulties accessing creative experiences. For example, a child who uses a wheelchair might have trouble reaching a traditional easel. A child with visual or hearing impairments may have trouble viewing a work of art or listening to a piece of music. A child who is inattentive might be challenged to take part in an experience for long periods of time. A child who is easily over-stimulated might not enjoy sensory or open-ended activities. You must be prepared to meet children where they are and make appropriate creative experiences a priority for all children. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when it comes to supporting all learners:

  • Art and creative experiences should always be a choice, and there should be no wrong answers. Each child encounters experiences in his or her own way and at his or her own pace.
  • Do not let disabilities or differences be a barrier to participation. You should create adaptations that allow each child to participate fully and successfully.
  • Scaffold creative experiences for children who need support. Although creative experiences are often open-ended, it is OK for adults to provide some help when needed. You could use a picture schedule to help an individual child begin an activity (i.e., put on smock, pick up brush, dip in paint, and create!). You may use a variety of supports such as peer support, adult support, or environmental modifications to help children be successful (Sandall & Schwartz, 2008).


Process over Product

Listen as staff members discuss process-oriented and product-oriented experiences.


  • Reflect on the philosophy of process over product. Think about the ways to foster quality thinking and decision making of the artist rather than just the finished product.
  • Encourage creativity in school-age children by asking appropriate questions about a child’s work. Remember to keep your questions open-ended to allow the child an opportunity to share. Display student work to encourage them to be creative.
  • Plan a variety of skill-based and open-ended art and literature experiences for school-age children. Keep a balance of experiences that are planned versus spontaneous, and those that are accessible during free time.
  • Spend time reflecting on how music has played a role in your life and what it might mean to school-age children. Explore methods of including music and dance in both free-time experiences and adult-led experiences. You might create a class song that is representative of the children’s identity and culture.
  • Do not be afraid to move! Let children see that music moves you. It is a method of modeling healthy habits, a great form of exercise, and a healthy way to express yourself.
  • Bring a story or poem to life by acting it out. Support children in their creativity by improvising. Use recycled materials to create a rhythmic backdrop to the story.


Thinking about process-oriented versus product-oriented experiences is a key component of art and literature education. Complete the Reflection: Distinguishing between Process and Product activity. When finished, share your work with your trainer, coach, or administrator.


There are many ways to engage school-age children in the visual arts. In The Visual Arts: Planning Activity, you will brainstorm ideas for a long-term collaborative visual art project (paintings, mosaics, sculptures, etc.) you could plan with the children. Remember to consider if there are any local artists or family members who could participate. When you have finished, share your work with your trainer, coach, or administrator.


Open-Ended Experiences:
Using the perspectives and beliefs of children and their families as a tool to support learning
Open-Ended Experiences:
Creative experiences that allow children to explore with minimal guidance or predetermined outcome


During your program’s Fall Family Night, a parent asks why their child is not bringing home more pieces of artwork such as painted apples and construction paper pumpkins. How do you respond?
Finish this statement: When you are planning visual art and literature-based experiences for school-age children, it is important to. . .
True or False? “That is an interesting house you painted” is a comment that will encourage a school-age child’s creativity.
References & Resources

Althouse, R., Johnson, M. H., & Mitchell, S. T. (2003). The colors of learning: Integrating the visual arts Vol. 85 of Early Childhood Education series. Teachers College Press.

Creativity. (2019, December 3). ECLKC.

Cornett, C. E. (2011). Creating meaning through literature and the arts. Pearson.

Gandini, L. (1992). Creativity comes dressed in everyday clothes. Child Care Information Exchange, 26-29.

Galuski, T., & Bardsley, M. E. (2018). Open-ended art for young children. Redleaf Press.

Hogan, J., Jaquith, D., & Gould, L. (2020). Shifting perceptions of quality art education. Art Education, 73(4), 8–13.

McLennan, D. M. P. (2010). Process or product? The argument for aesthetic exploration in the early years. Early Childhood Education Journal, 38(2), 81–85.

Milbourne, S. A., & Campbell, P. (2009). CARA's kit: Creating adaptations for routines and activities. Division for Early Childhood.

Sandall, S., & Schwartz, I. (2008). Building blocks for teaching preschoolers with special needs. Brookes Publishing.

Seidel, S., Tishman, S., Winner, E., Hetland, L., & Palmer, P. (2009). The qualities of quality: Understanding excellence in arts education. Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Solomon, J. (2016). Gender identity and expression in the early childhood classroom: Influences on development within sociocultural contexts. Young Children, 71(3), 61-72.